This Won't Make You Happy

by Mike Gillis

2021

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
It did make me smile a bit., November 21, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)

This Won't Make You Happy (shortened to THIS) is a short meta-humor game where your goal is explicitly to find a jewel of happiness. It shouldn't take long, either. The game explicitly admits at one point it was about learning to code, and I think we've all identified with just playing QuestyQuest or getting to that next level or whatever. And I certainly identify with COVID throwing me for a loop and wanting to try new stuff and not being very motivated. The choices are silly and maybe a bit reductive, and there's minor gross-out stuff, but they're never obscene.

And yet it only goes so far. Having seen a lot of games in the IF community, I've seen the basic puzzles people do to learn the technical parts of a language. It's new to them but not to those of us who have been programming. Towers of Hanoi, Wolf Goat Cabbage, truth tellers/liars, and so forth. It seems there are basic "unit" stories or tricks for programming more creative stuff. Fourth-wall humor, Do I Really Need to Keep Grinding, autobiographical ruminations, and, well, It Was All a Dream. They have more value, because although we've read them before (of course WINNING doesn't make you happy) we are more likely to get individual touches and treatments from the author. In this case, most of us know that getting a big fancy jewel won't make us happy. It's the journey. And here, the journey is nice, but there's not enough. I'd hear the jokes before, and they're not bad jokes, but they don't make for real individuality.

So what happens? You start off trapped in the Caves of Despair. You have some normal choices and some weird ones. Sometimes the normal ones fail, and you try the weird ones, and the game heckles you mildly. You find some gems and really have no choice but to take them, though you can sing a Gem Song if you want, and then there's a small green man, Grommo the Gremlin, who is in your way. You have no choice but to kill him, but after you do, you have choices of how to complain to the narrator. You do get to see the Gem of Happiness at the end, though first, you get to talk with the narrator about life and isolation from COVID and other disappointments. As for actually taking the gem? (Spoiler - click to show)You can't. There's just a loop. But you can quit the game.

Now I've seen these jokes in various forms. We know, abstractly, that "keep on questin' no matter what" is quite bad, whether it's a Candy Crush level that won't let you get 3 stars without really good luck or a lot of power-ups, or ... well, anything that gets your attention and then holds you in with sunk costs. So it's good THIS comes out against that sort of thing and provides humor. But nothing really memorable enough.

It did have a positive effect on me. The night before playing it, I was on chess.com last night just playing enough games to advance to the next league. You see, chess.com has leagues of 50 people and you get points for each win or draw. The top 10 (or 5 or 3 at higher levels) advance. There is no relegation. I was in the top 5 and managed to secure staying there, but I remembered how nervous I was that #6, whom I was ahead of by a factor of 1.33 or so, would catch me. But it didn't feel like enough! I was still looking over my shoulder. (I made it, of course. But it did call into question whether I should be playing chess games just to play chess games. I wound up deciding in favor of IFComp reviews, which was a good choice.)

One other thing: THIS's twine template may freeze up your browser. I admit I got rid of the timed text (a personal bugbear) with a few regular expressions. It seemed to get stuck some times, and the 15/20 second waits seemed indefinite. Replace (Spoiler - click to show)after:[0-9]+s with after:1s and t8n-time:[0-9]+s with t8n-time:1s.

This (puts on shades) made me happy. I got to see everything in the game a bit more quickly, and also I felt less helpless. And perhaps if THIS had explored these themes more, it would've soared.

In the authors' forum, someone compared the writing to Kingdom of Loathing, and once they mentioned it, it did remind me of that. I'm hesitant to recommend KoL because of what a timesink it was, even though it was terribly fun. THIS, but it does have that “first program” feel to it, and with more characters/obstacles like Grommo the goblin, we'd have something very cool. I think that's needed, because otherwise the main idea of "collecting gems is useless" is a bit trivial. In KoL's case, part of the fun is collecting worthless items like ghuol ears (not a typo) and batgut and putting them in a display case to be the person with the most batgut, and maybe even inflating their price in the process and having fun and not taking it seriously. That's hard to capture in a 15 minute game.

But THIS makes a start, and though if it didn't make me happy, it gave me a legitimate boost.